Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Citi Field – An Emotional Rollercoaster

Posted by JD on March 29, 2009

Sunday, March 29 brings the Big East to Citi Field as St. John’s faces off against Georgetown. This is, of course, the opening event at the new home of the Mets. But it also a time to reflect on just how we got here.

For the record, I was very reluctant to replace Shea Stadium. Having visited many new stadiums, particularly Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, I knew just how accessible and fan-friendly the new stadiums can be.  But even though Shea had its many faults I wasn’t ready to surrender its increasing uniqueness.  Shea became more and more unique as the cookie-cutter stadiums were replaced,. It became the third or fourth oldest stadium in the NL (depending on how you ranked RFK).  Sentimentally, I wanted to see Shea last for as long as possible.

Realistically, I knew Shea was due for replacement.  And though I’ve had my issues with the team’s ownership, I knew that as savvy businessmen who made their money in real estate they would do their best to create a fan-friendly environment that would maximize both their profits and the fans’ enjoyment of the game.  Surprisingly, I was blindsided by their original press releases.

In 2006, the NY Mets broke ground on a stadium that had approximately 12,000 fewer seats than Shea Stadium.  Sightlines would be improved and concourses would be less crowded, both good upgrades.  However, approximately 12,000 fellow fans would be denied the ability to attend games. Those that didn’t purchase season tickets would be subject to the whims of ticket brokers who most assuredly would. There are so many Mets fans that cannot attend 81 games for a variety of reasons (money, scheduling, etc). The new stadium’s size almost seemed as if it was deliberately designed to prevent these fans from attending more than a game or two a year.

And if that wasn’t enough, the city declared war on the surrounding neighborhood, with Mayor Bloomberg promising to invoke eminent domain laws to remove current tenants. Granted, the scrapyards are an eyesore and every fan would prefer the Wrigley Field experience: exit the stadium to a cozy neighborhood surrounded by bars and restaurants. But the scrapyards are legitimate businesses, entrepeneurs who have operated for years without the basic infrastructure that other neighborhoods take for granted.  These businesses turned a profit and, for the most part, paid their taxes.  And now they were being turned out just so the Wilpons could have a fancier stadium that would exclude a decent portion of their fan-base? It all left a bad taste in my mouth.

Gradually, I warmed to the thought of the new stadium. As an upper deck season ticket holder, I relished the idea of finding a standing-room-only spot somewhere on the field level to watch the final innings. I knew that certain spots in the new stadium would eventually become meeting points and I looked forward to participating.  But I could not come to grips with the simplest issue: the name.

I’m all for private businesses maximizing their returns.  My inner capitalist was on-board with the $400 million deal the Mets signed with Citibank.  But my inner taxpayer was upset that the land that they built their new stadium on was originally taxpayer land and, though self-financed, the bonds that will pay for this new stadium received tax-free status.  Add-in the the design replicating the facade of Ebbetts Field and subtract the Wilpon’s seeming disregard for Mets and Giants history, and the result was my disenchantment with the new stadium. 

Interestingly, the final game at Shea Stadium proved to be a bit of a turning point in my relationship with Citi Field.  I spent the final weeks of the season going to Shea as much as my schedule would allow and I found that it became easier to say goodbye to Shea.  Much to my surprise, ownership did a great job of saluting Mets history.  The attention given to the team, the stadium, and their combined history thawed my resistance and the final scene from Shea was perfect: the Franchise and the greatest position player in team history walking out of Shea, towards Citi, and closing the door behind them. 

I would’ve preferred to see the Mets make the postseason (who wouldn’t?), but the fact that they missed out by losing the final game at Shea made it that much more poignent. After the Mets lost, several thousand people left the building.  The departure of those fairweather fans made the setting that much more intimate for me.  To clarify, I started regularly attending games at Shea in the early 90’s, so seeing empty swaths of seats actually increased my feelings of nostalgia.  Though I would’ve rather seen the Mets win that day, it seemed perfectly fitting to close Shea on a losing note, and the missing fairweather fans only increased my connection to the team and the stadium.

I became determined not to miss Citi Field’s opening and luckily I was able to snag two tickets to the St. John’s/Georgetown game.  I have not been to Willets Point since November, so I was thankful to read Mets Grrl’s Citi Field preview http://metsgrrl.com/index.php/site/comments/the-metsgrrl-citi-field-preview/ and Matt Cerrone’s observations (of www.metsblog.com, as if you didn’t know).  Their enthusiasm for the new building is contagious and I’m excited to visit Citi Field tomorrow.

It’s been an up-and-down experience since 2006. Now, on the evening before the debut of Citi Field, I can finally say that I’m at piece with the decision to replace Shea and excited to see the new home of the Mets.

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